CFO Jeff Seward said HART can afford to increase ridership with a similar budget because of a successful "aggressive expenditure review," which led to $1.2 million in savings in different departments. Those savings came from eliminating vacant full-time and temporary positions, reducing printing and advertising expenses, and cutting back on consulting fees, training, travel office supplies and IT.
The agency will shift that $1.2 million into enhancing current non-peak services: adding 16,000 hours to nine current routes, extending most of them until midnight on weekends. In the case of Route 46 (Davis Islands/West Brandon), a one-hour midday service will be added (there is currently a gap of several hours). On two other routes, services will be added on Saturdays and Sundays, where none currently exist.
Both Seward and HART COO Katherine Eagan said the reason they are increasing hours for current services versus creating new routes is that doing the ladder would require more buses, which is not in the budget.
HART board member Eddie Vance asked who will make up the new bus riders (both HART and PSTA in Pinellas have noted record high numbers of ridership nearly every month). Eagan said in some cases it will be the same riders who use the service now, and that they'll simply be taking more rides during the extended hours. She also said there has been an increase of riders in Seminole Heights, Riverside Heights and Tampa Heights.
The agency's MetroRapid line will also be added soon, which is expected to increase ridership, as well.
The budget was unveiled before one committee today and will be presented to the full board next month. Later in the year, HART will hold public hearings about the subject.